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Are there any known conflicts between the teachings of A.W. Tozer and those of Reformed Theology?

My concern is sparked by his relation to the Christian "mystics", which sound potentially heretical. This question arose from finding numerous books related to the Holy Spirit written by Tozer when browsing Amazon.

Note this question is NOT "Is A.W. Tozer a Christian?".

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    Tozer wasn't Reformed so of course there will be differences. In spite of that his schollarship is still well regarded, I don't think he's usually branded as a heretic even by people that disagree with him on some points. Do you have a reference for his "relation to Christian mystics"?
    – Caleb
    Aug 10, 2012 at 10:27

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Although not a Tozer ‘fan’ per se, I would not label him as a mystic, although he does falsely appear that way a bit, in that he highly emphasised the Spirit and was also a poetic sort. A.W. Tozer is an interesting person to compare with the reformers. On one hand he was more like them than most who claim to be like them and on the other hand he certainly felt in some areas he had a better understanding than them, but so do many in one way or another.

What makes Tozer most different from reformers is simply that he did not believe in the cessation of those highly miraculous gifts of the Spirit, but rather urged that we should pray for them now. This does not make him a mystic it simply makes him a modern day charismatic. Among charismatics I would say Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones and Tozer are among the best. From my memory of some of his audio sermons that fed me spiritually quite a bit as a young believer, I would say Tozer had a very clear sense of the cross and an in-depth knowledge of early church father theology as well as reformed theology and generally preached accordingly. I would say that Tozer was closer to Calvinistic in his view of the atonement rather than anything else.

Where I would criticize Tozer to some degree is where he personally found it most humorous. I remember him making fun of one of his critics by calling him a ‘spiritual perfectionist’ and as funny as it sounds I think this label fits to some degree. If you ever read Tozer and notice to what degree he expected a Christian to be sanctified and holy, inwardly truly following Christ, it is almost as though the Apostle Peter would have come way too short for him! Paul may have just made it! This is really what Tozer was about: he was a unique charismatic holiness preacher. He seemed to be a man of prayer and very serious in his reverence for God’s word. He would not have approved of Christian rock music for example (something I like a lot). In some ways my criticism seems like a compliment and it is, but at some point it just starts to rub the wrong way and I do not think reading only Tozer books creates a balanced diet. Tozer is possibly a good supplement to a balanced diet. One needs to put him in perspective during a generation that was influenced by the charismatic and holiness movements.

In the end, I still have to say I like Tozer as a person, he was so very genuine and honest. I would not place him among the ‘bad guys’ or ‘mystics’ but let him sit over with ‘the good guys’. I would not recommend his books on the Spirit (if you are Charismatic I would read Lloyd-Jones). I would highly recommend his book on the ‘Attributes of God’ as possibly the best on the subject. This is merely my opinion after having read several Tozer books and many more Reformed books.

Maybe the best compliment I can give Tozer is to point out how he was received by those most Reformed: by quoting J.I. Packer who seems to like Tozer even more than I do:

“Through all of Tozer’s books and articles there shines a passion for God that puts our shallowness to shame. Reading him is like drinking at an oasis in the desert.” (book endorsement from J.I. Packer)

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  • I'm weak on theological terms. Can "cessation of spiritual gifts" be interpreted to mean "modern believers no longer perform miracles like the apostles did"?
    – user1694
    Aug 10, 2012 at 4:58
  • @user1311390 - yes, more or less. I do not know alot about the two you often mention Piper and Macarthur but I think the two of them may be very similiar and both good, but as far as I know Piper does not believe in cessation (that much), so he would be more like Tozer, and Macarthur does, so Macarthur would be more reformed in that sense. BTW - I posted a response to the subject of cessation here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8343/…
    – Mike
    Aug 10, 2012 at 5:29
  • thanks for the cessation question. This is very interesting; cessation vs charismitics has been pushed to queue of things to read.
    – user1694
    Aug 10, 2012 at 5:49
  • why do you not suggest the books by Tozer on the holy spirit? It seems like his views would be among the best to understand for one extreme of the views.
    – user1694
    Aug 10, 2012 at 5:49
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    @user1311390 - You could read them for that purpose but Lloyd-Jones is really the best if you want a charismatic view, Tozer does not really get into the deep theology of the question he just assumes it and is more of a preacher than teacher on the subject. Lloyd Jones is a teacher and get's right into all the issues. But ya Tozer would also be good to read from that standpoint. His sermons on audio are better than his books. He has a very likeable personality that gets removed a bit when published.
    – Mike
    Aug 10, 2012 at 6:12
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Between December 2012 and March 2013, three articles on Tozer appeared in the Reformed magazine, "The Monthly Record", published by the Free Church of Scotland. They total four full A4 pages of text, so all I can do here is read through my copies and offer a summary regarding the question you raise.

On his gravestone in Akron, Ohio, is the simple epitaph, "A. W. Tozer - A Man of God: 1897 - 1963."

He had no formal education and no theological training, teaching himself to master the English language and to diligently study the Bible at home, leading a life of much prayer and meditation. But I won't go into his life-story. What might have set him at odds with Reformed teaching? I quote from this article:

"Tozer would shut out everything and everyone and focus on God. Such was his disciplined approach to worship in prayer, a discipline that Tozer developed, it could be argued, from his immersion in the work of mediaeval mystics. All too often there has been reluctance at best, and extreme suspicion at worst, of anything connected with Christian mysticism as some kind of departure from our knowing God through God's self-revelation in his revealed Word. Indeed, even the very word 'mystic' conjures up images of Eastern religion and occult practice.

But such an argument dismisses both biblical precdedent for the deep contemplation and meditation of God as God, and historical reformed practice of the inner devotional life. Mysticism was a featue of 17th century Puritan writing, for example, in both England and Scotland, in such saints as Richard Baxter, Robert Bruce [no, not that one] and Samuel Rutherford." (Article by Nigel Anderson, p31, January 2013 edition)

There was criticism of him regarding his lack of social interactions with people in the church and with his own family. This could be said to be at odds with biblical teaching (which Reformed teaching agrees with re. relating to fellow Christians and one's own family):

"Yet if we simply focus on his great passion for the Lord we would be omitting to highlight a most serious flaw in Tozer's life - his failure to connect with others, even with those who should have been close to him. We are not referring to some innate shyness or nervous disposition but rather what appears to have been a deliberate cutting off of self from others: family, friends and even those within the church itself... He lacked a touch of humanity in fellowship with his people; Tozer failed so often to interact meaningfully with others, even when they were family or congregation." (Ibid. p 31, February 2013 edition)

However, despite many appalling examples of this, other examples were given of when he did show genuine care and compassion to some individuals. His biography by James L. Snyder details this.

The final point in the series says he was not afraid to take the prophet's mantle, to be a 20th-century prophet, to shake the church out of its complacency in the face of a rampant secularism, materialism, and relativism. Some people in the Reformed tradition (who might wrongly mix that up with many modern abuses of 'prophetic ministry') could think Tozer should be avoided for that 'prophetic' aspect.

I have two books, compilations of Tozer's writings, edited, so I cannot comment myself on where he might disagree with Reformed teaching, but most of what I read (as a Reformed Protestant) was highly beneficial. Some bits made me frown, but I cannot speak on behalf of Reformed theologians. I have mentioned the bit about 'mysticism', 'the prophetic mantle' plus included his disturbing lack of Christian fellowship (even with his wife and seven children, her family, and his family.) I would suggest that Amazon is not the best place to become informed. You really need to read his books for yourself, and to form your own opinion. If you are thoroughly grounded in scripture yourself, you should be able to do that.

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Although there is some quibbling about Tozer's poetic flair, Tozer is still generally recognized as authoritative in his writings. The bigger issue with Tozer would be in his personal life. There is some evidence that his "Pursuit of God" and "Knowledge of the Holy" came at the cost of his family relationships. Perhaps the most troubling statement was from his wife, after she remarried subsequent to his death: “I have never been happier in my life,” Ada Ceclia Tozer Odam observed, “Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (A Passion for God, 160). I lifted this quote from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/tozers-contradiction-and-his-approach_08/

As I was reading "Pursuit" I came across this paragraph that seems to be the climactic statement of the 3rd Chapter, "Removing the Veil." '

There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgment. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Savior passed when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.

I shared this quote with some Christian friends, and some were shocked, borderline appalled by this statement. The exception seemed to center around the first 3 sentences and the dark tone, but the main objection was that some interpreted this to mean we were going to re-crucify Jesus daily and that this was "doctrinally unsound at best." I'm fairly agnostic to the allegations and have come to just enjoy the discussion around it. Thanks.

What are your thoughts, dear readers?

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